Maybe We’re Busying Ourselves with Distractions?
How I put first things first so I avoid busying myself with disasters, distractions and interruptions! Plus a tool for your task management tool kit.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re failing at life? And how often do you feel like that - once a year? Once a month? Perhaps it’s once a week? Or maybe it’s several times a week?
Well, I have a confession: I’ve felt like that - sometimes often and other times not so much. It manifested as a nagging inner voice that incessantly went on about how I wasn’t being organised with my time and it told me that was the reason why I wasn’t productive, it made me feel bad for not achieving my goals. All of which created a big problem for my well-being and my sense of agency.
I tried to solve the problem with a paper planner, after all, a planner is one of the top tools for time management and goal planning. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet developed the habit for using the thing so failed miserably for 3 years straight :-(
My Downward Spiral
And if that wasn't bad enough, there would be days where my inner mean girl would make me feel even worse by telling me I’m lazy for not getting more done. Or she’d bully me into rushing around at the end of the day like a mad thing, in a last ditch attempt to get stuff done.
Although that was me about 18 months ago, and occasionally I do still slip back to that, it’s thankfully not the norm any more. In fact, I end most days I feeling like I’ve been super productive, without completely wearing myself out.
So what happened?
Firstly, I didn’t have a personality transplant that suddenly took me from feeling lazy and chaotic to being more productive and organised.
Instead, I finally developed the habit of using a planner to be organised with my time and tasks, which naturally resulted in me becoming more productive.
However, this article would be insanely long if I covered the whole process of my journey, so instead we’re are going to focus on just one principle that can give us a quick win towards feeling like we’ve been more fruitful with our time.
And if you want to grow fruit you need to plant seeds, so let’s sow the seed of “Putting First Things First”.
Understanding the difference between urgent and important?
When it comes to task management, I define something as urgent if: it has a looming deadline; if it absolutely must be done now; or it’s something that you have to do today.
On the flip side, I’d describe something as being important if it will improve your life or the lives of those around.
Those aren’t hard and fast rules for everything, but they’re where I choose to start.
There’s a catch though - a task doesn’t fall into just one bucket or the other. It’s not a binary decision making process of labelling things as either urgent or important, but rather combining ‘urgent or not urgent’ with ‘important or not important’. This is known as the “Eisenhower Principle”, named after the American President because it’s said to be how he organized his workload. He understood that in order to be effective and efficient, he needed to be ruthless with how he organised his time and tasks.
So what does the Eisenhower Principle (sometimes called The Eisenhower Matrix or The Priority Matrix) look like in the real world for those of us who aren’t the elected head of an entire country?
Put First Things First!
Inspired by Eisenhower, Steven Covey wrote about this principle in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People*. In Habit 3, Put First Things First, he introduces his readers to a system for organising and executing around priorities, he called it The Time Management Matrix, and it’s where tasks are organised into one of four quadrants as follows:
The Time Management Quadrants:
Quadrant 1: URGENT and IMPORTANT (do it now!) - Sudden disasters or crises that require immediate attention (cue ‘fire fighting’ mode).
Quadrant 2: NOT URGENT but IMPORTANT (schedule it) - These tend to be your goals and projects (big or small), as well as planning activities.
Quadrant 3: URGENT but NOT IMPORTANT (can you delegate it?) - Usually annoying interruptions that require on-the-spot attention.
Quadrant 4: NOT URGENT and NOT IMPORTANT (delete or defer it) - Anything that distracts you or wastes your time (like scrolling social media).
When you use this system to pre-organise your tasks you can become ruthless with what you actually dedicate your time and energy to. What’s more, you can run anything you’re about to do through this system.
For example, I’m sure no one truly wakes up in the morning and thinks “I really must put scrolling Instagram for 40 minutes in my urgent AND important quadrant today!”. So when you next catch yourself mindlessly scrolling, hopefully the concept we covered here will start chiming like a warning signal.
Using the right tool for the job
While I was researching and writing this piece I had a brainwave - why not create a practical tool for this?!? Initially a type of checklist page came to mind but then I thought why not stickie notes?
Or rather a printable sheet that you can place your own blank 3 x 3 sticky notes on and print a design onto them yourself.
I knew the matrix was a must for inclusion, just so I could stick it wherever I needed a reality check for quickly sorting through my to-dos. But I also want a some stickies that I could use for quickly listing on the spot things when I’m on the go. So I bundled a few different templates into this one functional printable for stickies.
If your goal is to be more organised and productive then The Eisenhower Matrix is a useful tool for evaluating how to make the most of your time and energy. I use it as a filter for quickly deciding on whether I should do something now, plan it, delegate it, or dump it!
Special Bonus Offer
As a special bonus for readers Keshinomi is offering the first 10 purchasers 50% off the printable sticky note template when they use code FIRST10OFFER at the checkout.
Until next time Planner Friend, put first things first!
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